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J Neurosurg. 2009 Mar;110(3):521-4. doi: 10.3171/2008.9.JNS08670.

Spontaneous spinal cerebrospinal fluid leak as a cause of coma after craniotomy for clipping of an unruptured intracranial aneurysm.

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, The Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, Los Angeles, California 90048, USA.


Spontaneous spinal CSF leaks are best known as a cause of orthostatic headache, but may also be the cause of coma. The authors encountered a unique case of a spontaneous spinal CSF leak causing coma 2 days after craniotomy for clipping of an unruptured aneurysm. This 44-year-old woman with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease underwent an uneventful craniotomy for an incidental anterior choroidal artery aneurysm. No intraoperative spinal CSF drainage was used. Two days after surgery the patient became comatose with a left oculomotor nerve palsy. Computed tomography scanning revealed a right extraceberal hematoma and loss of gray-white matter differentiation. The hematoma was evacuated and a diagnosis of hemodialysis disequilibrium syndrome was made. Continuous hemodialysis and hyperosmolar therapy were instituted without any improvement. The CT scans were then reinterpreted as showing sagging of the brain, and the patient was placed in the Trendelenburg position which resulted in prompt improvement in her level of consciousness. A CT myelogram demonstrated an upper thoracic CSF leak that eventually required surgical correction. The patient made a complete neurological recovery. Neurological deterioration after craniotomy may be caused by brain sagging caused by a spontaneous spinal CSF leak, similar to intracranial hypotension due to intraoperative lumbar CSF drainage.

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